Palestinian University Students Receive Special Mention in UNICC Data Hackathon

Special Mention for Students of Islamic University of Gaza

One of the great opportunities of working within the UN family is encountering bright minds from all over the globe. Such was the case for the 2021 UNICC Global Hackathon: Data for Good, especially the participation of Master’s students from the Islamic University of Gaza (IUG) in Palestine.

Motaz Saad, a UNICC Data and Analytics team member, Senior Data Scientist at UNRWA and IUG Assistant Professor introduced the hackathon to IUG. Together with the Dean of the School Iyad H. Alshami and the data department, he selected the top performing students in their class to join as one team. Over the next few days, Mohammed El-Agha, Abdullah Abu Nada, Ahmed Abu Amsha and Anas Alsalool entered the international competition and submitted a final solution worthy of a special mention.

UNICC’s Global Hackathon: Data for Good launched on Tuesday, 16 February 2021 with an introduction from the organization’s executive leadership to a global audience of UNICC and other UN organizations’ staff members, university representatives and over 140 students.

Following the introductory remarks from UNICC’s Director Sameer Chauhan and Chief of Digital Business Solutions Ninna Roco, Anusha Dandapani, Chief of Data Analytics, introduced the three challenges of the hackathon: COVID-19 Open Challenge, Refugee Crisis: Predict Forced Displacement, and the UN75 Visualisation Challenge.

Mohammed, Abdullah, Anas and Ahmed opted for Challenge 2: Refugee Crisis: Predict Forced Displacement on which to build their data-based solution. In the introduction of their presentation to a group of UN judges, mentors and university professors, the team laid out the scope of their work, emphasising that the solution is not simply presenting predictions but also building an implementable plan based on those data-based predictions.

Credit: UNICC

The team then presented their data sources, marking key indicators such as numbers on countries’ fatalities, terrain and geomatics as determinants of which datasets to explore, research and implement into a prediction.

Upon gathering relevant data and comparing and contrasting their findings, the team noticed a noticeable pattern in the graphs of a positive correlation between a country’s high fatality rate and its rate of displacement, especially refugees. Once this pattern was established, the team began to build their data pipeline in order to properly process their data, configure their input and output into X and Y datasets, build their model and ultimately evaluate its results.

Using Syria as a primary example for their findings, Mohammed, Abdullah, Anas and Ahmed compared the effect of the number of fatalities, caused by the nation’s social and political instability to the ultimate number of displaced populations. The time series model the team constructed from the pipeline predicted the number of refugees, internally displaced people and asylum seekers increasing in the next five years, given the continued conflict. The team also observed similar patterns in their predictions for Afghanistan and Mexico.

Following the presentation of their findings, the team evaluated them in their conclusion. One event the team specified to be related to increase in rates of refugees was the Arab Spring of 2011, a series of protests and uprisings in several countries in the Middle East. The team further explained that the fatalities that resulted from periods of political tension such as the Arab Spring are accounted for in other countries’ explanations.

Team IUG, upon presenting to the panel of judges and mentors and in an interview with UNICC, expressed interest in pursuing future opportunities in data science to tackle modern-day issues such as forced displacement.

The opportunity to present our solution with other international teams was highly competitive, but we want to be able to see this hackathon experience as not just a presentation but a means to contribute building real solutions for issues such as forced displacement and migration to make a real difference.

Team IUG, Islamic University of Gaza

Team IUG’s involvement in the UNICC Global Hackathon is indicative of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, particularly SDG 4: Quality Education, and SDG 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure.

This article is part of a series of stories from the first UNICC Global Hackathon: Data for Good that took place in February 2021. The hackathon drew registrations from a total of 140 students from 54 universities located in 13 countries around the globe, all of whom came together to tackle three major UN related challenges: COVID-19 Open Challenge, Refugee Crisis: Predict Forced Displacement, and the UN75 Visualisation Challenge. To learn more about this successful event and its wonderful finalists, please refer to this article here.

Photo: UNICC/Cadinu

UN Secretary-General Visits the UN Support Base in Valencia

UNICC Takes Part in the Tenth Anniversary Celebration

UNICC is proud to have been a part of the warm welcome to Secretary-General António Guterres to the UN Support Base in Valencia to take part in the celebration of its tenth birthday.

I’m extremely grateful for the work of my colleagues at the UN Support Base in Valencia, Spain. Through the deployment of innovative solutions and digital support, they play a critical role in ensuring we can deliver our work, around the clock and around the world.

António Guterres, UN Secretary-General

The Secretary-General recognised the work of the people at the base, which has expanded beyond the UN Department of Operational Support (DOS, formerly DFS) to include more Agencies, including UNOPS, UNICC, and now UNICEF and IOM.

The UN Support Base hosts the UN Global Service Centre (UNGSC) to meet the needs of UN peace operations worldwide since 1994. Nowadays, UNGSC’s mandate is to provide critical logistics, geospatial, Information & Telecommunications technologies services and training to all Secretariat Entities, Peacekeeping and Special Political missions, Agencies, Funds and Programmes of the UN system worldwide.

UNICC Director Sameer Chauhan. Photo: UNICC/Cadinu

UNICC is the biggest Agency in the base (with nearly 300 personnel in its Centre of Excellence and Common Secure Operations Centre, or CSOC), and is also the biggest UN Agency in Spain. The Centre of Excellence covers many strategic areas of digital business solution delivery, from cyber security, data and analytics, innovative new technologies as well as ongoing operational services. UNICC acknowledges Spain’s efforts to provide the required space to accommodate the continuous growth of the organization.

I want to affirm our commitment to work on the expansion of this centre, attracting more and more the various United Nations Agencies to transform or to continue transforming this centre into the technological and communicational heart of the most important activities that we develop for the benefit of the populations most impacted by the difficult times that we are living.

António Guterres, UN Secretary-General

Celebration participants included among others:

  • António Guterres, UN Secretary-General
  • Arancha González Laya, Minister of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation of Spain
  • Ximo Puig, President of the Generalitat Valenciana
  • Carmen Martínez Ramírez, Mayor of Quart de Poblet (the town where the base is located)
  • Atul Khare, Under-Secretary General for Operational Support, UN Department of Operational Support
  • Giovanna Ceglie, Director of the United Nations Global Service Centre (UNGSC)
  • Sameer Chauhan, Director, UNICC
  • Michel Bergeron, Head of Premises of the United Nations Information and Communications Technology Facility in Valencia (UNICTF) and Chief of Service for Geospatial, Information and Telecommunications Technologies (SGITT)

The agenda followed the Secretary-General’s itinerary. He was received in the airport by the USG and Minister of Foreign Affairs. The President of the Generalitat de Valencia, the Director of UN GSC, the Director of UNICC and the Mayor of Quart de Poblet met and greeted him.

The Secretary-General and the Minister of Foreign Affairs then unveiled a commemorative plaque for the 10th anniversary of the base. The group went to the cafeteria where the Secretary-General was briefed about the expansion of the base and inclusion of new Agencies. In the cafeteria, there was a press briefing by the UN Secretary-General, the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs and the President of the Generalitat Valenciana.

The group walked around the cafeteria visiting the booths, including UNICC’s, where the Secretary-General talked with Sameer Chauhan, Prado Nieto, Mati Gil, Esther Ferrer, Liliana Hedges, Martina Kellen and others from UNICC.

In a separate session later that afternoon, the Secretary-General met with the youth of Spain at the City of Arts and Sciences. Among the select group of twenty youth were five UNICC interns.

Young people must have a say in the decisions that affect their future.

António Guterres, UN Secretary-General

They held a roundtable discussion on topics including reinforcement of multilateralism to fight global challenges and COVID-19, the digital revolution, global inequality, rightful work for youth and action for climate change.

Photo: UNICC/Cadinu and UN

The UN Support Base celebratory event was an affirming testament to the good work that UNICC delivers to its more than 70 Clients and Partner Organizations and also provided an opportunity for UNICC to share its success stories and digital business solutions with UN leadership, the Spanish government, the UN Support Base, the town of Quart de Poblet, the city of Valencia, the country of Spain and the wider world.

See also:

Photo: UN RSCE

UN RSCE Robotic Process Automation Telephone Billing Consolidation

The Future Digital Work Force is Here

The UN Regional Service Centre in Entebbe, Uganda (UN RSCE), has among its many missions the consolidation of administrative and support functions previously located in its field missions. This streamlining of administration provides less volatile, more business-friendly regional locations, with the goal of providing efficient, client-oriented and scalable services while reducing the missions’ footprints to UN field missions across Africa. Robotic Process Automation (RPA), through the UNICC Robotic Process Automation Centre (RPA+) was there to help develop and deploy a telephone billing consolidation system.

Robotic Process Automation is the use of software that can be easily programmed to do sequenced, high volume, repetitive tasks across applications. It creates and deploys a software robot that works like a digital assistant, doing routine, complex, rule-based, time-bound tasks that would otherwise eat up employees’ time.

RPA and hyperautomation technologies – what UNICC calls ‘RPA+’ – allow us to call on a digital workforce to help us gain immediate operational efficiencies and get closer to business stakeholders and beneficiaries on the ground. Ultimately, RPA+ helps Clients and Partner Organizations build better to deliver on their mandates.

Nagesh Vepa, Head, Hyperautomation Solutions, UNICC

The Regional Project and Implementations Unit in the Field Technology Services of the Regional Service Centre in Entebbe (RSCE) has now successfully deployed two Robotic Process Automation (RPA) projects in the past three years, both of which have been in the Regional Telephone Billing Unit (RTBU).

In African peacekeeping missions, RPA was pioneered in RTBU through a Proof of Concept in 2018, followed by a full-fledged deployment in March 2021. RTBU was a logical place to start, given that it processes massive amounts of data: over 100,000 bills in FY2018/2019, translating into over 9,000,000 rows of data.

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Photo: UN RSCE

Before embarking on any automation, all of the complex process steps have to be identified at a granular level. Fortunately, RTBU had their internal processes well documented with sufficient detail. One aspect that was not captured in the process maps, however, was offline tasks. In particular, there is the requirement to handle, process and standardise documents received in different formats into a standard template, which used to take significant effort, time and resources on the part of the units.

With the RTBU processes clearly defined, the Regional Project and Implementations Unit partnered with UNICC for the development and deployment of an automated bot. The bot accesses the target files for processing from an input folder in SharePoint. Upon processing, successful files are moved to an output folder with exceptions, audit logs and performance reports being maintained in separate folders.

UNICC was responsible for process assessment, development, testing, Production deployment, associated license procurement, onboarding Orchestrator service for relevant bot, infrastructure hosting, administer and support for the RPA Process candidates and agile project management in the United Nations Regional Telephone Billing Unit (RTBU) of the Regional Service Centre in Entebbe (UN RSCE).

RPA has allowed for automated multiple, time-consuming offline processes by converting telephone bills received from over 16 missions in over 25 formats into a single standard format that is compatible with the Unit’s telephone billing platform. This means that there is now visibility for every single row of every single bill that has gone through RPA, which is projected to generate thousands of dollars a month in savings through enhanced recoveries.

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Photo: Zanders

The result is greater speed and accuracy in performing repetitive, high-volume tasks, freeing time for staff to focus on more productive, analytical tasks. In addition, there are additional benefits like time stamps and an audit trail for previously offline actions that are performed outside the telephone billing platform.

RPA efficiency gains:

  • Significant cost recoveries during the first year of operation
  • Formats over half a million rows of data per hour
  • Fully compatible with Microsoft 365
  • 50 staff hours a month saved on manually formatting documents
  • 100% accuracy in converting/formatting bills
  • Supports 24 document formats
  • Generates a real-time audit trail in MS SharePoint for a process that was previously undocumented
  • Improves staff morale
  • Easily scalable to handle larger volumes and formats of data
  • The concept is transferable to offices using structured data.

UNICC’s RPA and hyperautomation technologies have allowed the UN RSCE to call on a digital workforce to help deliver administrative and operational efficiencies, allowing regional staff to get closer to the business and deliver more efficiently on their work packages, thus helping the RSCE to best to deliver on its mission and mandates.

Photo: UNV/Nazaroğlu

Application Integration Services and BI Support for United Nations Volunteers

The spirit of altruism and volunteering is a core tenet of the United Nations, where individuals around the world can contribute to the UN goals of universal betterment in progressive social, environmental and economic transformation. Volunteerism in the UN is championed especially by the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme, an organization that works with partners to integrate volunteers into development programming and promote the value and global recognition of volunteerism.

We count on UNICC for expertise and experience in delivering application integration services. The data dashboards now in place help to prioritise the business intelligence the business needs for us to change and grow with the times.

Frederic Le Maistre, Chief Information Officer, UNV

Based in Bonn, Germany, UNV is a UNICC Client, supported with a myriad of services ranging from infrastructure hosting to digital transformation, ICT strategy support, Robotic Process Automation and application integration support and development.

UNICC’s services supporting UNV also benefit its 9,400 volunteers, 150 staff across six regional offices and 60 field units. Additionally, UNV is under the administrative domain of UNDP and consists of an Executive Board of UNDP, UNFPA and UNOPS, all also UNICC Clients and Partner Organizations.

UNV partnered with UNICC to implement Application Integration services and Business Intelligence support from UNICC’s Data and Analytics team. Beginning in 2018, the project entailed the planning, gathering and consolidating of essential business data and analytics for UNV’s Finance department. Several of these deliverables consisted of:

  • Streamlining usage and flows of various data structures to prioritise strategic targets
  • Supporting and fine-tuning existing SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS) packages to optimise performance
  • Developing a BI data model and reports using various data sources including SSAS tabular and Power BI, which also needed to be embedded in existing UNV applications
  • Design and build customised dashboard and reports for external audiences
  • Build integrated reports for existing UNV applications (using Power BI embedded)
  • Validate and ensure configurations and parameters of various data sources for various UNV applications
  • Performance improvements for reports.

Technologies include SQL Integration Services (SSIS), SQL Server, Power BI Premium and Pro with a Microsoft Azure Infrastructure.

Due to the smooth delivery of the BI project support service in 2018, UNICC signed on to continue to support UNV in October of 2020 to provide business analyses and gather critical data on major reports, including financial, contribution, status and donor reports, among many others.

For each report which the UNICC team members consolidated and published for UNV, they offered and ensured valuable insights and data on the required maintenance and improvements, with one year resiliency on the information included. The trusted partnership of UNV and UNICC not only strengthens the functions of an organization catered towards service but also exemplifies the result of meaningful coordination.

Photo: UNV

Across the successful deliverables and impactful team collaboration, UNICC’s BI support for UNV demonstrate the importance of the health of internal organizational structures. The robust data analytics and newly advanced internal reports amplify UNV’s capabilities to manage its missions in providing volunteers to hundreds if not thousands of UN initiatives around the globe.

Moreover, UNICC’s partnership with UNV paves a way for UNICC to contribute to the spirit of volunteerism for the UN mission and the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, notably Goal 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure and Goal 17: Partnership for the Goals.

Photo: UNITAD

UNITAD and UNICC: Innovative Technology and Partnerships for International Criminal Investigations

The United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL (UNITAD) joined the UNICC family as a Partner Organization in August 2020. The partnership has quickly advanced to support data management for accountability in UNITAD criminal investigations, with UNICC offering Microsoft Azure hosting services, development, data and cognitive services.

UNITAD is an independent, impartial investigative team, mandated by the United Nations Security Council to support efforts to hold ISIL members accountable for their crimes. Based in Baghdad, Iraq, UNITAD was established as a unanimous response from the international community to a request for assistance from the Government of Iraq. UNITAD is headed by Special Adviser Karim A. A. Khan QC.

The collection and preservation of evidence related to ISIL crimes presents a variety of challenges, but with these challenges comes opportunity. The criminality of Da’esh, and the quantity and variety of the evidence left behind, necessitated new thinking and new investigative approaches. UNITAD needed to chart new ground, and I was determined that innovation and advanced technology must supplement more established approaches to grappling with mass data sets and vast quantities of documentary, video, photographic, electronic and testimonial evidence.

Karim A. A. Khan QC, Special Adviser and Head of the Investigative Team

UNITAD’s innovative and technology-focused approach to the collection and analysis of evidence of ISIL crimes was welcomed by United Nations Member States in an Arria Formula Meeting of the Security Council this month, chaired by the United Kingdom. The session highlights the value of advanced technology and partnership in providing accountability to meet UNITAD’s criminal investigations mandate (see meeting recording here).

We are proud to be working with UNITAD, UN OICT and Microsoft to harness innovation, data and analytics to assist UNITAD in fulfilling its mandate to deliver justice for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.

Sameer Chauhan, Director, UNICC

UNICC Contributions

UNICC Data and Analytics, Application Development and Cloud Infrastructure teams supported the collection, preservation and storing of evidence in the form of images, audio, video and digital text files that has been recovered from sources on the field.

This data helps serve as evidence in independent criminal proceedings to hold members of ISIL accountable for the crimes they may have committed.

The Data and Analytics team led the development of a data pipelines build-out using cloud AI technologies and enabled, AI enriched content to gain an understanding of content for investigators.

UNITAD Charting New Ground in Criminal Investigations

UNITAD reflects that, if harnessed properly, technology resources can bring about a paradigm shift in how the world approaches international criminal investigations: integrating innovative technology not as a stand-alone platform but as an integrated process focused on organization, screening and analysis of evidence.

UNITAD has sought to leverage advanced technology in every aspect of its work, with designing innovative solutions in-house or partnering with leading technology companies like UNICC and Microsoft Corporation. In particular, an evidence lifecycle management platform known as ELMS was developed in-house, allowing investigators to collect and record evidence directly from their computers or mobile phones. Advanced forensic tools are used to unlock and analyse cell phone data.

The solution can process more than 250,000 passwords per second; it can also perform ballistic analysis from ammunition retrieved from crime scenes. To date, the investigative team has collected more than 50 terabytes of data and tens of millions of files. The UNITAD team quickly realized that the daunting challenges presented by this enormous and complex collection of evidence could only be addressed with innovative technology.

The UNITAD Special Advisor secured much needed support to develop a digital data platform from UNICC, UN OICT and Microsoft. The solution was based on artificial intelligence and machine learning to process and enrich UNITAD’s evidence collection standards. These joint cognitive services coupled with UNITAD’s custom-trained models allow for data enrichment pipelines (see white paper here).

The organizations worked together to develop an advanced evidence-analysis solution that leverages Microsoft’s Azure cognitive services and integrates with the relativity evidence review and analysis platform. This partnership not only helps UNITAD fulfill its mandate in a more efficient and cost-effective manner, but it creates new business opportunities that its partners can take to other entities facing similar challenges. At the same time, UNITAD lever­aged existing relationships with UNICC and UN OICT for infrastructure, development data and security expertise.

UNITAD created an animation on the partnership solution featuring the UNITAD team as well as Sameer Chauhan, Director, UNICC and Justin Spelhaug, Vice-President of Tech for Social Impact Group, Microsoft Corporation with Karim A. A. Khan QC, Special Adviser and Head of the Investigative Team, UNITAD.

The result is not only transformative for UNITAD’s work, but may also be a model for partnerships with the private sector to enhance criminal accountability initiatives.

See related meetings sessions:

UNRWA
Photo: UNRWA España

UNRWA Digital Transformation Support Amplifies Opportunities for Refugees

UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, has recently embarked on a mutually beneficial journey with UNICC. While UNRWA has been a UNICC partner for fifteen years, their relationship blossomed last year with a host of new initiatives as well with an agreement for UNRWA to supply IT and other skilled support staff to UNICC, allowing UNICC to leverage cost-efficient resources and support UNRWA’s mission to deliver services to over 5 million refugees in the Middle East.

I’m so pleased with UNICC because they’re not only offering application hosting as we traditionally received from other service providers within and outside of the UN, but they’re offering management and consolidation services, and they were really looking for ways to optimise our architecture and reduce our costs.

Kaan Cetinturk, CIO & Director of Information Management and Technology, UNRWA

Achieving Human Potential through Digital Transformation
UNRWA, with its mission to help Palestinian refugees achieve their full potential across the spectrum of human development initiatives, needed to optimise its IT business processes and consolidate and simplify its enterprise application stack.

Digital transformation means a significant shift in how an organization builds and uses digital tools and platforms, how they use technologies to improve internal operations and help people to be more focused on the organization’s business, mission and values.

Digital transformation is now a CIO priority as more business leaders understand business agility, resiliency and productivity as important factors in determining their success. Kaan Cetinturk, CIO and Director of Information Management and Technology, UNRWA, was of this mindset when he reached out to UNICC for advisory and digital business support.

After a number of projects including information security assessments, a connectivity consultancy and Forrester IT advisory services support, early in 2020 UNRWA subscribed to Infotech Advisory Services through UNICC, and together, through workshops and consultations, the organizations plotted a strategic path for digitisation of the UNRWA enterprise application stack.

As outcomes of this strategy and roadmap, UNICC supported UNRWA with a host of services and projects, from meeting management support, remote conference hosting services, security enhancements for infrastructure and applications, electronic signature services, Azure hosting for a number of applications as well as support for UNRWA’s International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), hosting an IATI generator, data transparency dashboard, application development, maintenance and support.

UNICC supported the following 2020-21 projects to fundamentally modernise UNRWA’s digital footprint:

UNICC

UNRWA transformation initiatives. Credit: UNICC

Migrating, Hosting and Supporting the UNRWA ERP REACH SAP Platform
UNICC’s involvement with UNRWA’s digital transformation journey began with ERP support. CIO Kaan Cetinturk reached out to UNICC asking for support to migrate and manage their SAP ERP platform, which was hosted in the UN Global Service Centre (UNGSC) data centre in Valencia, Spain.

In September 2020, the plan to migrate the REACH SAP platform began, moving it to the UNICC data centre, co-located in the UNGSC. The goal was to complete migration before December 2020; however, the production migration was postponed due to business concerns affecting end-of-the-year financial reconciliation and payments.

UNICC supported UNRWA on migrating development and staging environments before the end of the year, using these migrations as testbeds for evaluating migration and reducing risks to UNRWA business stakeholders.

By January 2021, a new plan for migrating the Production environment was agreed, where a dry run for testing the production platform migration was introduced, to further reduce the risk of interface failure with other external systems. Since the UNRWA REACH SAP has a series of interfaces with other business-critical systems of UNRWA (i.e., eHealth, eTM, RRIS, FMIS, etc.), the joint team had to mitigate any connectivity and interface issues that might arise.

Production migration was completed successfully at end of March 2021, with some ongoing activities related to migrating additional production systems ancillary to REACH SAP systems, as well as setting up a Disaster Recovery platform in UNICC’s data centre in Geneva, Switzerland.

The UNRWA REACH SAP system was one of the first production platforms to be hosted in UNICC’s data centre in Valencia. The migration required a sound level of coordination with the previous hosting provider, the UNGSC, to allow the setup of required applications to support the migration of the platform.

UNRWA Espana

Photo: UNRWA Espana

Providing a Holistic Solution, Not Just Application Hosting
What persuaded CIO Kaan Cetinturk to move in this direction? Shifting from the UNGSC to UNICC data centre was a holistic solution rather than just a hosting service. UNICC offers applications hosting as well as ongoing support, with improvements, administration, consolidation, monitoring and reporting.

UNICC helped and is still helping UNRWA transform their organization in identifying an effective, enterprise-wide, digitally enabled ERP-based business transformation roadmap by:

  • Building an ERP digital strategy and vision
  • Assessing the maturity of business innovation and digital adoption
  • Understanding the value generated by the business transformation
  • Increasing the performance rate for the new infrastructure deployed in Valencia
  • Providing additional support for setting up new Azure Data Gateway systems, a new interface hub system supported in Azure cloud for UNRWA
  • Reducing operational costs, providing additional flexibility to add in new services, and faster operational support for increased client satisfaction and increasing the overall security of the platform through including common security services.

Migrating, Hosting and Supporting eHealth and Education Applications
UNRWA was hosting its eHealth and Education Management Information System (EMIS) applications from their data centre in Amman, Jordan and was looking to move applications hosting to the UNICC data centre in Valencia, where cost-efficiencies, stricter security controls and ongoing administration, monitoring and reporting meant a more robust solution.

A plan was agreed to provide hosting services for the UNRWA eHealth and EMIS applications environments, for production, staging and testing environments, with Disaster Recovery in the UNICC Geneva data centre for risk mitigation and business continuity.

We make every effort to provide the best possible services, reduce costs and help UNRWA achieve their goals. As an example, for the eHealth application, we are helping them reach their goal. We recognize that the e-Health application benefits a large number of clinics and hospitals in the Middle East, so that is our target.

Javier Conde, Solution Architect, UNICC

The goal is to migrate the eHealth and EMIS applications infrastructure to UNICC premises and hand over operational tasks related to platform infrastructure from UNRWA to UNICC. This allows UNRWA to have 24/7 support and utilize UNICC support organization distributed across three continents. The support scope includes but is not limited to:

  • Creation and management of customer dedicated network VLANs for the front-end and back-end servers
  • Management of firewalls and Load Balancer VIP addresses
  • Provisioning of virtual servers for staging environments
  • Production and Disaster Recovery environments
  • Installation with UNICC monitoring tools and definition of monitoring alerts and escalation paths
  • Virtual server and Operating System administration
  • Backup configuration
  • 24/7 incident management support
  • Assistance on the applications migration and Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity configuration.

Since the eHealth and EMIS databases are combined, UNICC assisted UNRWA in saving time and money on hosting, maintenance and migration. As a result, UNICC was able to help UNRWA to identify ways to reduce costs of their IT services, enabling them to invest savings in other areas. The production migration for both applications is expected to be completed in Spring-Summer 2021.

Doing Dev Ops Successfully with Azure DevOps Services
Another critical component of UNRWA’s digital transformation was its Dev Ops capabilities. UNRWA asked UNICC for a tooling license to do Dev Ops for application development, and thanks to UNICC, they quickly realized that Dev Ops is more than just a collection of tools, despite some definitions. DevOps refers to a set of practices, methodologies, and technologies that enhance an organization’s security and ability to deliver software and services successfully.

UNICC, with its highly skilled Applications Delivery team, provided the know-how to get this going. UNRWA undertook a series of workshops hosted by UNICC to learn how to do DevOps effectively using Microsoft Azure DevOps services. And now, they’re using this technique for their production systems.

UNRWA doesn’t need to see UNICC as a provider, because first and foremost, we are non-profit. This sets us apart from most other public or cloud providers. Our primary goal is to provide the best possible services. So, when we work with an organization like UNRWA, they don’t have to see us as a competitor or just a hosting provider because their goal becomes our goal and we will work as UNRWA colleagues.

Javier Conde, Solution Architect, UNICC

Common Secure Security Information and Event Management (cSIEM) Services
Many UNICC Clients, including UNRWA, have implemented cyber security services including security log and event collection and management systems, endpoint detection and response tools, firewalls, intrusion prevention systems and other security operations tools.

UNRWA was looking for a strong platform to help to visualise anomalies that may occur and to enable quick and useful analysis of log data that allows the countering of complex cyber threats.

UNRWA will be using UNICC’s CSIEM services to collect, correlate and analyze event logs from its core components globally to enhance overall information security operations and to enable the identification of suspicious behavior and early signs of compromised infrastructure components or systems.

Supporting the Sustainable Development Goals
Multi-stakeholder collaboration and inter-Agency coordination are essential for digital transformation and IT growth. This can be accomplished by involving a wide range of stakeholders in the digital field and exchanging best practices within the UN system.

As the largest direct service provider to Palestine refugees in its areas of operations, UNRWA supports the following Sustainable Development Goals central to our work: SDG 1: No Poverty; SDG 2: Zero Hunger; SDG 3 Good Health and Well-Being; SDG 4: Quality Education; SDG 5: Gender Equality; SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation; SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth; SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities and SDG 13: Climate Action.

And the new partnership between UNICC and UNRWA clearly supports SDG 9: Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure as well as SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals for a partnership that is growing day by day.

Photo: Commonwealth Secretariat

New User Organization: Commonwealth Secretariat

UNICC is pleased to announce that the Commonwealth Secretariat has been accepted as a UNICC User Organization. UNICC’s Business Relationship Manager for the Commonwealth Secretariat is Portia Machancoses.

The Commonwealth Secretariat is an intergovernmental organisation that supports member countries to achieve the Commonwealth’s aims of development, democracy and peace.

The Commonwealth is a voluntary association of 54 independent and equal countries. Its roots go back to the British Empire, but membership of the modern Commonwealth does not depend on formerly being part of the British Empire. Members work together to promote prosperity, democracy and peace, amplify the voice of small states and protect the environment.

The Commonwealth Secretariat:

  • Is a voice for small and vulnerable states
  • Champions young people
  • Promotes justice and human rights
  • Addresses threats like climate change, debt and inequality
  • Helps grow economies and boost trade
  • Supports decision-makers to make good laws and deliver policies
  • Helps strengthen governance and build inclusive public institutions
  • Provides technical help and training
  • Sends experts and observers to countries to give impartial advice and help solve national problems
  • Provides systems, software and research for managing resources.

The establishment of the Commonwealth Secretariat in 1965 emphasised the equality of all members, and gave final discouragement to the lingering sentiment that one member had a right to some predominance over others. It has enabled the Commonwealth to develop along independent lines in accordance with the interest of all its members.  

Julius Nyerere, President of Tanzania (1973)

The Commonwealth Secretariat supports member governments and partners with the broader Commonwealth family and others, to improve the well-being of all Commonwealth citizens and advance their shared interests globally.

Photo: UNHCR

UN Agencies Transition to Cloud-based Telephony

​UNICC Supports Clients with State-of-the-Art Voice Solutions

Many United Nations Agencies are transitioning from conventional enterprise telephony systems to cloud-based solutions that allow users to make mobile, landline and international phone calls through Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) connections, with options for modern desk phones and computer ‘soft’ phones, unifying a whole set of communications collaboration tools across the enterprise.

UNICC has been acting as a key enabler for many Partner Organizations who wanted to adopt and modernize their enterprise voice solutions during the challenging times brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gabriel Galati, Head, Digital Workplace Services Unit, UNICC

UNICC has been involved in multiple migrations, implementing customized cloud-based solutions that take into account each organization’s legacy telephony equipment and infrastructure, current phone carrier, location and local calling plans, organizational cloud strategy, functionality and interoperability requirements as well as current and evolving business needs.

UNICC is currently supporting up to ten UN entities and related organizations in their transitions to cloud telephony, including ADB, ICJ, IFAD, ITC, ITU, OPCW, UN Women, WTO and WFP HQ, with other UNICC Clients in the pipeline.

Our mission is to provide our Clients with the unique experience of making professional phone calls from anywhere at any time. And to do it in a “UN style,” achieving more with less.

Ricardo Pardal, Project Lead, Unified Communications, UNICC

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Microsoft voice system common option for the UN. Credit: Microsoft


The most common options (which can be mixed and matched) include an all-in-the-cloud solution, bringing the organizational phone carrier to the M365 phone system in the cloud or on premises) with different Session Border Controller options to connect to the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN Carrier/Telco):

  • Phone system with Calling Plan (all-in-the-cloud solution)
  • Phone system with organizational phone carrier with Direct Routing
  • Phone system with organizational phone carrier via Skype for Business (/Teams) server
  • Enterprise Voice in Skype for Business (/Teams) server with own carrier.

Most UN Agencies chose the Microsoft Teams Direct Routing option through which they follow a gradual transition, integrating first the organization’s telephony equipment and/or third-party provider to the Microsoft Teams telephony solution in the cloud, moving through different stages of coexistence before eventually disposing the old system and embracing a comprehensive, cloud-based telephony implementation.

One of the key benefits of cloud telephony is that it allows to establish the least-cost route on calls. With voice gateways anywhere in the world, Clients can pay local instead of international fares while calling anywhere, anytime. UNICC has gateways in Italy, Spain, Switzerland and the US, but if the Client requires a new gateway, it can be established in the Microsoft Azure Cloud in just two days.

Moreover, with cloud telephony an organization can unify all its communications and collaboration tools, minimizing the number of applications their users need for calling, video meetings, instant messaging, Business Relationship Management and business processes.

Microsoft Teams is a solid solution, with an engine that has been developed and continually improved for over a decade and a modern front-end. But the UNICC Unified Communications team is also equipped to serve Clients who are interested in alternative solutions, for example Clients who prefer or require retain the functionality provided by on premise systems and a blend of traditional (landline) PSTN and VoIP (voice over IP) telephony options.

For instance, UNICC manages legacy Skype for Business and Cisco telephony systems, both on premise and in the cloud, for several Clients. Additionally, the team has in-house experts on Zoom, Polycom and more telephony and voice vendors, to fulfill each organizations’ business requirements, with interoperability between systems always available.

Microsoft Teams, with its voice solutions and other integrative apps is a versatile and powerful platform that can boost productivity and collaboration as no other application before it.

Mihai Petrescu, Operations Lead, Unified Communications, UNICC

UNICC also offers Calling Plan options with no legacy hardware nor provider. Through Microsoft Teams, the Client can call to phone numbers around the world without requiring any deployment or maintenance of on premise equipment. This is a streamlined and cost-efficient solution for Clients that want to skip the coexistence phase and move directly to fully cloud-based telephony. Cloud-based Calling Plans, however, are not available in all countries, making this a challenge for most UN Agencies.

The continuous commitment of the UNICC Unified Communications group, their technical expertise and their Client intimacy has allowed smooth enterprise voice integrations overcoming many challenges brought by the diversity and legacy of Client’s Unified Communications systems.

Gabriel Galati, Head, Digital Workplace Services Unit, UNICC

UNICC’s knowledge of the United Nations ecosystem means that its Unified Communications team can help each organization to obtain the option with best return on investment, whether that means reusing older networks and infrastructure, leveraging Skype for Business or Microsoft Teams licenses already purchased or adopting a brand new Calling Plan scenario.

Photo: ITU/Farrell

FICSA and UNICC Team Up for a Brighter Future of Work for UN Staff

Sharing expertise in the digital transformation journey

The Federation of International Civil Servants’ Associations (FICSA), representing the views of over 40,000 International Civil Servants through their member staff associations/unions, recently signed an agreement with the United Nations International Computing Centre (UNICC).  Sharing expertise and experience in digital transformation journeys, UNICC has been identified as a crucial partner to address FICSA’s work on the digitalisation process, the digital divide and its mandate to ensure staff engagement.

To support building a sustainable framework for the future technology roadmap of the UN system means not only to put staff members at the center of the process, but to make sure that experts are right at the center with us.

Tanya Quinn-Maguire, FICSA President, at the Virtual 74th Annual FICSA Council Plenary where the recommendation for this partnership was adopted.

This exciting partnership allows for more extensive and better-informed staff consultation processes.  The short-term aims and goals of the partnership include:

  • Demystifying issues surrounding enabling technologies among staff members through high-quality education and training as well as expert-led support for staff representatives, so as to empower them to contribute to ongoing discussions on technology and organizational restructuring on behalf of their constituency;
  • Supporting staff members in employing digital tools in sustainable, healthy and proficient ways, in line with the UN Mental Health and Well-being Strategy;
  • Fostering a science-based and human-centered approach to the digital transition within the UN, with FICSA serving as a sounding board for UNICC projects and initiatives;
  • Identifying feasible solutions to address current inequalities in gaining access to and utilising enabling technology, including for those that are disadvantaged due to limited access;
  • Representing FICSA members at high level meetings with well-prepared FICSA positions.

Digitalisation has already begun, and FICSA members need to understand where these developments are heading. FICSA’s long-standing commitment to fact-based staff representation informed the Council’s decision to team up with professionals in digital business and technology at UNICC.

About FICSA

The Federation of International Civil Servants Association (FICSA) was established in 1952. Today, FICSA is a federation of staff associations and unions, which represents close to 40,000 members. FICSA fosters the development of the international civil service in accordance with the principles set forth in the UN Charter and the constitutions of the specialized agencies.

For more information, please reach out to business@unicc.org or ficsa@un.org. For media interviews, contact ficsa@un.org

Photo: UN City Copenhagen

UNFCCC and UNICC Partner to Optimize Digital UN Climate Change Events

Bonn/Geneva 22 March 2021 – The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the United Nations International Computing Centre (UNICC) have announced a partnership to develop and deliver a state-of-the-art digital platform for climate change events. The solution will support pre-COP26 events, COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland (1-12 November 2021) and strategic long-term requirements for UNFCCC.

As the climate emergency continues unabated, the need to facilitate global participation and engagement in the multilateral process on climate change remains as vital and urgent as ever. The constraints the COVID‑19 pandemic is posing on large-scale physical conferences, as well as the need to reduce emissions associated with conferences, make it imperative to implement a high-quality, integrated virtual and hybrid meeting solution in order to maximize participation and engagement.

UNFCCC’s digital platforms will be strategically enhanced and matured to ensure an optimal experience for users. This includes a seamless conference management solution with full security and trust, sophisticated data and analytics insights, premium support and sustained adoption and usability for conference and meeting participants.  The new platforms will be complementary to the physical events of the UNFCCC process.

About UNFCCC

The UNFCCC secretariat (UN Climate Change) is the United Nations entity tasked with supporting the global response to the threat of climate change. UNFCCC stands for United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The Convention has near universal membership (197 Parties) and is the parent treaty of the 2015 Paris Agreement and the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The ultimate objective of the agreements under the UNFCCC is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that will prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system, in a time frame which allows ecosystems to adapt naturally and enables sustainable development.

For more information, please reach out to digital@unicc.org.